Rocking stones (also known as logan stones or logans) are large stones that are so finely balanced that the application of just a small force causes them to rock. They are found throughout the world. Some are man-made megaliths, but others are natural, often left by glaciers.
Logan or rocking stones are known in Scotland sometimes as clach-bràth. They marked locations where Scottish open-air courts would take place. A clach-bràth is sometimes known as a judgment stone. The reason that courts were near logan stones is that the movement of stones in such formations was used to determine the guilt or innocence of those accused of serious crimes in ancient times.
The word "logan" is probably derived from the word "log", which in an English dialect means to rock. In fact, in some parts of the UK, rocking stones or logan stones are called logging stones. The word "log" might be connected with the Danish word "logre", which means to "wag a tail".
- It may be observed that I have always used the words Loging Rock for the celebrated stone at Trereen Dinas. Much learned research seems to have been idly expended on the supposed name, "Logan Rock." To log is a verb in general use throughout Cornwall for vibrating or rolling like a drunken man; and is frequently heard in provincial pronunciation for tug, characteristic of the modem present participle. The Loging Rock is, therefore, strictly descriptive of its peculiar motion.
Stones that move
Rocking stones are immense rocks, so situated that the least touch can make them rock in one certain direction, but which cannot be made to move in any other by all the force that can be applied to them by unaided humans. Such stones are common in Britain and other places around the world; in Galicia, they are called pedras de abalar.
Pliny the Elder (23-79) wrote about a rock near Harpasa (in Caria, Asia Minor) that could be moved with a finger but could not be dislodged with a thrust of the whole body. Ptolemy (ca. 90 – ca. 168) wrote about the Gygonian rock, which he claimed could be moved by pushing on it with the stalk of an asphodel, but could not be removed by any force.
There is a massive 90 - 95 ton glacial erratic boulder near Halifax, Nova Scotia which can still be rocked with a lever but which used to move quite easily, before a band of sailors from the nearby Halifax garrison rocked it into a more stable configuration in the 1890s, and before its base was worn down by excessive rocking in the 1980s and 90s when a park was developed around it at Kidston Lake, in the Spryfield area of the municipality. It used to be a popular picnic destination: in Victorian times: people would travel from Halifax, climb upon it and spread their lunches, while enjoying the sensation of rocking gently while seated upon the huge rock.
Bosistow Logan Rock is at the head of Pendower Cove (sometimes written as Pendour Cove) near Zennor, Cornwall. It apparently was discovered by an employee of the lord of the local manor whose duty it was to watch the coast. A ship had been wrecked in the cove, and while watching ensuing activity, the employee leaned against a boulder. Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and the boulder shifted, or "logged". The longest side of this mass of stone is about 15 feet (4.6 m), and the circumference of its biggest end is about 20 feet (6.1 m). It is thought to be about 20 tons.
A rocking stone is recorded near the site of Saint Bride's Chapel. This stone stands on top of the Craigs of Kyle near Coylton in Ayrshire. It weighs around 30 tons and rests upon two stones. A large standing stone known as Wallace's stone stands nearby.
In the parish of North Carrick in the Straiton District in South Ayrshire, about a quarter of a mile to the west of the White Laise, and near the March Dyke, there is a rocking stone named the Logan Stone. The Logan Stone is a gray granite rock and rests on graywacke, and can easily be moved with one hand. It is 4 feet 3 inches (1.30 m) by 4 feet (1.2 m), by 3 feet (0.91 m) high.
Near Lugar in the Parish of Auchinleck in Ayrshire, Scotland is a rocking stone in a hollow by the Bella Water near its junction with the Glenmore Water. It is made of two vertical stones, and a horizontal stone about six feet long, three feet broad and four feet high. It was regarded as a Druidical monument or the grave of a Caledonian hero.
A rocking stone existed in 1913 - 1919 at Sannox on Arran. It sat on a nearly horizontal platform next to the seashore.
There are even some masses that have been shaped by humans that exhibit similar behavior (sometimes unintentionally). For example, in the ruins of the Roman temples at Jerash in Jordan (the "city of 1000 pillars"), there are some massive pillars that move back and forth in the slightest breeze.
Stones that used to move
Ayrshire in Southwest Scotland apparently is endowed with a geology that lends itself towards the formation of rocking stones. There are several rocking stones, or stones that used to rock at one time, in Ayrshire.
A rocking stone that some associate with the Druids is on Cuff Hill in Hessilhead, near Beith in North Ayrshire. It no longer rocks due to people digging beneath to ascertain its fulcrum. It is in a small wood and surrounded by a circular drystone wall.
The Ogrestone or Thurgartstone near Dunlop in East Ayrshire is thought to have been a rocking stone. However soil has built up around the base of the Thurgatstone over the years, which now prevents any rocking motion.
The Lamagee or Lamargle stone is in the center of a stone circle in the village of Lugar in East Ayrshire. The Lamargle stone rests on two stones. Local legend has it that the Lamargle stone used to rock, but it no longer does.
The Clochoderick stone near Howwood and Kilbarchan in Renfrewshire used to rock and it is said that the Druids used it to judge people. The accused was made to sit on the stone and by the way it moved the Druids judged the innocence or guilt of the individual. It is also said to be the burial place of Rhydderch Hael, King of Strathclyde who was the victor at the Battle of Arderydd near Arthuret in the Borders. His victory brought Christianity to Strathclyde. This stone is very unusual and is a SSSI for Geology in its own right.
Dislodged rocking stones
Often wear, erosion or human intervention have resulted in the dislodging of rocking stones.
A well known rocking stone or logan stone was located at Sharpitor near Lustleigh on Dartmoor. It was also called 'The Nutcrackers stone' sometimes seen on Ordnance Survey maps. The huge stone once lay overhanging Lustleigh Cleave until 1951 when vandals pushed the stone down the valley. A failed attempt to rescue the stone, by pulling it back up the valley resulted in it breaking into pieces.
Larchmont, New York
There is a 150-ton glacial erratic on Rockingstone Avenue in Larchmont, New York, that was so perfectly balanced that just a small touch would allow it to rock back and forth. Unfortunately in the 1920s, blasting for a new sewer system in the neighborhood dislodged the rock, so it no longer balances.
- This shaking stone may be seen on a sea-cliff within half a mile of St. David’s. It is so vast that I presume it may exceed the draught of an hundred oxen, and it is altogether rude and unpolished. The occasion of the name (Y maen sigl, or the Rocking-stone) is for that being mounted upon divers other stones about a yard in height it is so equally poised that a man may shake it with one finger so that five or six men sitting on it shall perceive themselves moved thereby.
Cromwell’s soldiers rendered the rocking-stone of Pembrokeshire immovable after Mr. Owen had described it. They reportedly destroyed it because they felt it encouraged superstition.
There was another rocking stone at Golcar Hill, near Halifax in Yorkshire. However, the Golcar Hill rocking stone will no longer easily rock because some masons wanted to find out how such a large weight could move so easily, so they chopped at it until they destroyed its balance.
There was a very sensitive rocking stone called Men Amber (sometimes written as Men-Amber or Menamber) on a high ridge in the parish of Sithney, near Pendennis, Cornwall. It is 11 feet (3.4 m) long, 4 feet (1.2 m) deep, and 6 feet (1.8 m) wide. It was toppled by Shrubsall, the governor of Pendennis, and his men about 1650 during Cromwell’s Commonwealth. One rumored motivation for the dislodging was a purported prophecy of Merlin. Merlin had supposedly said that Men Amber would stand until England had no king.
- Main Ambres; petrae ambrosiae, signify the stones anointed with holy oil, consecrated; or in a general sense, a temple, altar or places or worship
William Borlase in his 1754 book Antiquities of Cornwall, claimed that Men Amber was dislodged because:
- the vulgar used to resort to this place at particular times of the year, and paid to this rock more respect than was thought becoming to good Christians
Another well-known example of a rocking or logan stone is Logan Rock of Treen in Cornwall. This huge stone weighs about 80 or 90 tons. It is one of the best known rocking stones for several reasons. For example, Modred, in William Mason's dramatic poem "Caractacus," addressing the characters Vellinus and Elidurus, says of the Logan Rock:
- Thither, youths,
- Turn your astonish'd eyes; behold yon huge
- And unhewn sphere of living adamant,
- Which, poised by magic, rests its central weight
- On yonder pointed rock: firm as it seems,
- Such is the strange and virtuous property,
- It moves obsequious to the gentlest touch
- Of him whose breast is pure; but to a traitor,
- Tho’ ev’n a giant’s prowess nerv’d his arm,
- It stands as fixt as Snowdon.
However, another reason that the Logan Rock of Treen is remembered is that it was the center of a famous drama. In April 1824, Lieutenant Hugh Goldsmith, R. N. (nephew of the famous poet Oliver Goldsmith), and ten or twelve of his crew of the cutter HMS Nimble, armed with bars and levers rocked the huge granite boulder until it fell from its cliff-top perch. Goldsmith was apparently motivated to disprove the claim of Dr. Borlase, who wrote in Antiquities of Cornwall in 1754 that:
- In the parish of S. Levan, there is a promontory called Castle Treryn. This cape consists of three distinct groups of rocks. On the western side of the middle group near the top, lies a very large stone, so evenly, poised that any hand may move it to and fro; but the extremeties of its base are at such a distance from each other, and so well secured by their nearness to the stone which it stretches itself upon, that it is morally impossible that any lever, or indeed force, however applied in a mechanical way, can remove it from its present situation.
Goldsmith was determined to demonstrate that nothing was impossible when the courage and skill of British seamen were engaged. The Logan Rock fell and was caught in a narrow chasm.
This upset the local residents considerably, since Logan Rock had been used to draw tourists to the area. Sir Richard R. Vyvyan (1800-1879) was particularly unhappy. They demanded that the British Admiralty strip Lieutenant Goldsmith of his Royal Navy commission unless he restored the boulder to its previous position at his own expense. However, Mr. Davies Gilbert, persuaded the Lords of the Admiralty to lend Lieutenant Goldsmith the required apparatus for replacing the Logan Rock. The Admiralty sent thirteen captains with blocks and chains from the dock yard at Plymouth, and contributed £25 towards expenses. Gilbert also raised more funds
After months of effort, at 4.20pm on Tuesday, the 2nd of November, 1824, in front of thousands of spectators and with the help of more than sixty men and block and tackle, the Logan Rock was finally repositioned and returned to "rocking condition" (Michell 1974). Apparently the total final cost of this enterprise was £130 8s 6d. However, it is not clear how much of the remaining £105 Goldsmith had to make up out of his own pocket.
For some time after, the rock was kept chained and padlocked, but eventually these restrictions were removed, and the rock was set free. However, it apparently no longer vibrates or "logs" as easily as it did before.
Tourism dropped, and this was blamed on the condition of Logan Rock. For a while, Treen was nicknamed 'Goldsmith's Deserted Village'.
Another famous rock structure, Lanyon Cromlech, was knocked down during a thunderstorm in 1815. The same machinery that was used to restore the Logan Rock in Treen was successful in repositioning Lanyon Cromlech.
There are a wide variety of beliefs associated with rocking stones. Because of their strange nature, rocking stones were sometimes associated with witchcraft, or Druids. Stones which were balanced so that the wind could move them were used sometimes in trials to determine guilt or innocence of the accused.
It was said that the rocking stone near Nancledrea in Cornwall could only be moved at midnight when witches were out. People claimed that if you touched the rocking stone nine times at midnight, you would turn into a witch.
The rocking stone at Land's End was said to have been placed there by a giant who used it to rock himself to sleep.
It was claimed that the Logan Stone in Treen could cure childhood diseases. The children were rocked on the Logan Stone in certain seasons. People say that the charm was broken when Lieutenant Goldsmith dislodged the Logan Stone.
It is a Cornish tradition to make a vow and then attempt to move a rocking stone, or logan rock. It was said that no one with treachery in their heart could make a rocking stone move.
See also↑Jump back a section
- Paterson, James (1863). History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton. Vol. I. - Kyle. Pub. James Stillie, Edinburgh. P. 217 - 218.
- A map showing the location of a rocking stone in South Ayrshire
- Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire, John Smith of Dalry, 1895
- Currie, Robert. Rocking stone near Lugar. Kilmarncok Glenfield Ramblers Society. Annals. 1904 - 1907. P. 23.
- Allen, Charles A. Arran: Its Charm & Beauty. Kilmarncok Glenfield Ramblers Society. Annals. 1904 - 1907. facing P. 76.
- A travel diary from Jordan describing the movement of pillars at Jerash
- The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax, in Yorkshire T. Lowndes, London, 1775, republished by E.J. Morten, Manchester, 1973, p.26
- Topographical Description of Ayrshire; more Particularly of Cunninghame: together with a Genealogical account of the Principal families in that Bailiwick., George Robertson, Cunninghame Press, Irvine, 1820
- Weir John and Le Messurier 1988, Great Walks: Dartmoor & Exmoor
- 101 Cornish Lives, Maurice Smelt, ISBN 0-906720-50-8
- Popular Romances of the West of England: Romances of the Rocks: The Logan or Loging Rock
- Hippisley Coxe, Antony D. (1973). Haunted Britain. Pub. Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-116540-7. P. 21.
- Michell, John (1974). The Old Stones of Land's End. Garnstone Press. ISBN 0-85511-370-7. P. 78.
- This article incorporates text from "Dwelly's [Scottish] Gaelic Dictionary" (1911). (Clach-bràth)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.
- World Wide Words entry, Michael Quinion
- photograph of the Pontypridd rocking stone in Wales in the middle of a Druidic stone circle
- an account of the Logan Rock
- Stonehenge. A temple Restored to the British Druids, W Stukeley, 1740.
- Secret Cornwall: Bodmin Moor and its Environs, Andy Norfolk, Imbolc 2003; a discussion of Men Amber's destruction
- Old England, Charles Knight, 1845.
- The Description of Penbrokshire, George Owen, 1603.
- Lake’s Parochial History, S. Levan, 1868
- Logan stone
- site with maps of 9 rocking stones in the UK listed
- A photograph of the Thorgatstane
- Rockingstone Advisors - named after Larchmont's rocking stone.